How Chicago Can Make Itself Safe. Safer Than New York.

Chicago Civic Media

by Steve Sewall (7/13/19; updated 7/20/19)

In 2019 Chicagoans Voted for a Mayor Who Will Listen to the People (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

On July 11, the MacArthur Foundation hosted its “Promising Solutions to Reducing Gun Violence in Chicago” event at the Target Area Development Center in Chicago’s Auburn/Gresham neighborhood. The purpose was to “contribute to a comprehensive, citywide violence reduction plan for Chicago.” This article, in a sequence of three short posts, assesses Chicago’s past violence reduction efforts and offers suggestions as to how Chicago can most effectively address violence in the future.

Would you believe that Chicago — America’s urban-violence poster child, with over 400 homicides in each of the past 50 years — is now poised to make itself even safer than New York?

It really is. For three compelling reasons the time is right for Chicago to ditch the pain of six decades of failed attempts to reduce violence on the way (at long last) to mobilizing the enormous energies and abilities of its people to make Chicago safe.

1. In 2019, Chicagoans and their new mayor opted to make Chicago safe.

In the 2019 mayoral elections, Chicago voters discarded the old, top-down, violence-enabling Chicago Machine and elected a no-nonsense rookie candidate who promised again and again to work with all Chicagoans to make Chicago safe.

In her inaugural speech, Mayor Lightfoot prioritized (gun) violence as “the biggest challenge we face” and, to deal with it, promised “to mobilize the entire city behind a unified strategy.”

Over the years, however, Chicagoans have heard similar high-flying promises — invariably broken — from their mayors. Not surprisingly, many today see violence as a natural fact of city life, like brutal Chicago winters.

Mayor Lightfoot can’t afford to break her promise. Chicagoans want her to keep it. But how to mobilize everyone?

In media-driven cities like Chicago, it’s best to make it happen in the media.

Case in point: In the 1920’s, coach George Halas was desperate to create a fan base for his fledgling Chicago Bears. With college football all the rage, pro football was then little more than a sandlot game. Yet knowing that Chicagoans avidly read the sports pages, Hallas wrote article after article about upcoming Bears games, even mastering the tricks of the sportswriter trade. All without success.

Until “One glorious Monday,” as he later wrote, “I awoke to find the Chicago Tribune had made our game its top sports story. I went to the Tribune and thanked the young sports editor, Don Maxwell.”

Chicago’s media had discovered a new market: the Chicago Bears.

2: A large market for a safe Chicago now awaits discovery by Chicago’s media. Chicago’s media have long had the digital-age communications tools needed to mobilize Chicagoans. In 2013 they mobilized two million Chicagolanders to Grant Park to celebrate the Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup championship.

What’s been missing with respect to violence is expressly civic uses of media: dynamic, trustworthy, problem-solving uses that bring out the best in Chicagoans and their leaders.

Not the worst, as Chicagoans constantly complain of seeing their media do today.

The mayor’s promise to mobilize Chicago changes all that. It creates a market for a violence-solving civic media: a Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans whose lives and finances (e.g. property taxes) are affected by violence. That’s everyone! (Especially Chicago’s mostly at-risk 586,000 children.)

This new, untapped market of 2.7 million citizen/consumers gives media and local advertisers powerful civic/dollar incentives to create and sponsor civic-minded content and programming dedicated to making Chicago safe. (Cost-free to taxpayers.)

3: Daniel Burnham’s 16 Words: Chicago’s best response to 16 Shots. Few Chicagoans are aware of the root civic impulse underlying the broad boulevards, neighborhood parks, forest preserves and 20-mile public lakefront of the physical infrastructure that Chicagoans cherish and tourists marvel at today.

In his 1909 Plan of Chicago, Chicago’s visionary city planner, Daniel Burnham, spelled it out in sixteen simple words:

And after all has been said, good citizenship is the prime object of good city planning.

At a time when 16 Shots casts a pall over Chicago, these 16 Words might well be etched on the fifth floor of City Hall to encourage all who enter to think of the 20th-century I Will City as a 21st-century We Will City.

Which raises a question: what would Daniel Burnham, redivivus, say if he could visit Chicago today?

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Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and Director of Chicago Civic Media.

Chicago Civic Media

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POSTS BY STEVE SEWALL | To give Americans an informed voice in all three communities - local, state and national - of which every American is a member.

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